UK Hi-Fi Show Live 2019

After six years in Windsor this show has moved to the rather more salubrious surroundings of Ascot race course where the substantial grandstand provided plenty of space for exhibitors to spread out and demonstrate their wares. If nothing else Ascot proves that there is a lot more money in horse racing than hi-fi, the place is big, especially lengthwise and and it’s six floors high so visitors who managed to get to all the rooms put a lot of steps on their fit bits. But it is worth the schlep, the rooms sound better than those in hotels despite the glass wall on the racetrack side of each. I heard better sound here than I’ve encountered in most shows which has to be a plus given that the point of the event is to demonstrate the potential of often very pricey systems. 

The exhibitors were largely from the high end sector although there were a few offering goods for the wider market, Harman for instance showed its cloth encased wireless Citation range. A few manufacturers brought fresh goods to the event although the timing meant that there weren’t many new products that had not been launched in September. The following are the more interesting examples that were encountered.

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In the Absolute Sounds penthouse there were a few interesting new products, Sonus Faber’s Olympica Nova II (the smallest floorstander above, £9,000) three-way floorstander was nestling among its range mates. This range is aimed at the performance of the Tradition models in a more compact yet very high class form. Sonus Faber also brought a gold foil embellished version of the Lilium loudspeaker (top of page), usually £65,000 this one-off version is £99,000 but it is 24 carat gold.

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Origin Live demonstrated its current range topping tonearm the Agile (£9,500), this has a six layer wrap on the aluminium tube for maximum stiffness and sits on dual pivots for the vertical bearing. It was being used on a Voyager Mk2 turntable with Art du Son electronics and Origin Live speakers.

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RAM is producing three new loudspeakers to sit alongside the Reference that relaunched the brand. The Studio range consists of two bookshelf and a floorstander with the Studio 10 standmount (above left) demonstrated featuring a 5inch woofer in a reflex enclosure for £1,600. The finish is leather and walnut with the option of changing the side panels. It’s shown alongside sister brand Falcon’s LS3/5A.

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Mofi demonstrated its more affordable Studio turntable with 10inch arm (£1,800) by playing their own cut of Dire Straits’ ‘Sultans of Swing’, apparently Mark Knopfler wouldn’t let the master tapes out of the country so Mofi sent their engineer to London with all the cutting hardware to make this record.

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The Mofi turntable was played through Primare electronics including the new R15 phono stage (£1,350), this is claimed to have lower noise and more gain than its predecessor the R32. The system was powered by A35.2 stereo power amps (£2,700) used in bridged mode via GoldenEar Triton speakers. A system that sounded great playing Mofi’s one step pressing of Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks.

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Dan D’Agostino showed a prototype of a forthcoming integrated amplifier at a somewhat more affordable circa £15,000 price than the existing Momentum integrated. This looks likely to have optional an phono stage and DAC plus a headphone amp but at present the details have yet to be finalised.

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The Reel to Reel Rambler is Dave Denyer’s homage to all things tape and for this event he had gathered an impressive selection of hardware and people to speak about it. The latter included singer Lynn Stanley, reviewer Neville Roberts and Mike Valentine from Chasing the Dragon. Hardware in use included a Studer A810 and the new Ballfinger M-063 alongside an Aesthetix Mimas amplifier and Raidho TD 2.2 loudspeakers on Townshend Seismic Podiums, speaker cable was Townshend F1 Fractal that Dave is very impressed with. This was unsurprisingly one of the best sounding and most popular rooms at the event.

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Russell Kaufmann was feeling sorry for himself after some extensive dental work but had brought his RussellK Red 150 se loudspeakers along (£6,000). These have a new tweeter and revised crossover to suit with a bigger coil for the bass as well as a new plinth and spikes.

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Melco announced that it would be replacing its server software with Minim and adding vTuner alongside Songkey’s file sorting software to its range of music servers at the High End show, and now these changes have been made, the hardware gaining an EX suffix in the process. The amount of storage has also increased on most models with the N1Z/2EX-H60 (£5,699) shown (the top single box HDD model) now offering 6TB and its SSD counterpart providing 4TB. They also announced the S100 audiophile data switch at a cool £1,999, a 10 port network switch optimised for audio purposes and very much Roon ready.

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Innuos are now selling the PhoenixUSB reclocker that was announced early in September. It connects to any USB source be it a music server or a PC and outputs a precision clocked signal on the same connection. This is a key element of the £11,000 Statement server that’s now available at a more approachable £2,249.

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Moon’s 680D DAC (£8,900) is a step down from their range topping 780 at around half the price so it doesn’t have a femto clock but still sounded very fine with an Innuos Zenith source via Moon’s 860A v2 power amp and Dynaudio Confidence 30 loudspeakers. The VPI HW40 Anniversary (£15,000) direct drive turntable isn’t brand spanking but with its 12inch gimbal bearing arm and high mass construction it’s quite an impressive beast.

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Quadraspire were sharing space with Nagra for whom they have built a dedicated equipment rack that suits half width components. This version features Q+ isolation feet under separate bamboo plinths for each tier and comes in at £700 per tier, a version without the plinths is also available. 

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SME have been making progress with their Garrard rebuilding project. The plinth incorporates a complex isolation system, has a machined RCA output plate on the rear and Crystal Cable for the 12inch tonearm. SME CEO Stuart McNeilis is personally overseeing the Garrard project and is going to great lengths to get the details right, including having new badge and control plates made and machining bolts and rivets for these in house. He also sought out the original Garrard mat supplier and recovered the moulds so that new mats can be made to the exact spec. Which partly explains why this turntable costs £18,500 including arm and cover.

 

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Esoteric was sharing a room with Raidho and Shunyata and making some rather good sounds playing more interesting music than most. The latest addition to the Japanese brand’s range is the Grandioso K1X SACD player (£36,200) which features the heaviest VRDS disc drive yet built at 13.5kg including the base, and a Master Sound discrete DAC.

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Rogers is back in the UK with Andy Whittle (who designed speakers for the company in the 90s) at the helm. The first products are two BBC designs, the LS5/9 (£4,800) shown and an LS3/5A (£2,899). They are also reviving the E20A integrated valve amplifier (below) in mk2 form with 6L6 valves in a push-pull arrangement producing almost 20W for circa £3,500, it’s due for production at the end of the year.

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Retrotone rebuilds classic idler driver turntables and had a rare Goldring G99 in a striking plinth with their own 12inch unipivot tonearm which will sell for around £399/450 when it comes to market. They also do a ‘drop-in’ version for the Goldring Lenco GL75 that allows for replacement without damaging the existing arm and should provide a substantial upgrade.

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The ever stylish Jozefina Lichtenegger has added a particularly shiny and exotic tonearm to the EAT portfolio. The F Note (€6,990) is available in 9, 10 and 12inch versions and incorporates a laser to aid in the setting of VTA and azimuth, this is battery operated, sits on the side of the bearing housing and uses reflectors in a block atop the headshell. It was fitted to the Fortissimo turntable (€10,500), the anniversary edition of the Forte model with a mass loaded plater and inverted bearing with Movic coating for ultra low friction. She has also added the Jo No.8 MC cartridge to the range, this has a chestnut body, boron cantilever and Shibata tip and was created to produce a “warm sound”.

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Eclipse didn’t have any new product to show but were making particularly engaging sounds with TD510Z Mk2 speakers and a TD520SW subwoofer playing Makiko Hirabayashi’s piano jazz track ‘Hide and Seek’ using a Melco N1Z server and Esoteric K-07Xs CDP/DAC as a source and an Ayre EX-8 integrated amplifier.

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Trilogy are approaching their 30th anniversary and will be making a revised version of their original tube amp to mark the occasion next year, in the meantime they have a tempting new phono stage called 975 for £8,250. This has adjustable loading and gain and can accommodate both MM and MC cartridges, I tried to get more info out of maker Nic Poulsen but all he would say is that it’s “fabulous”, but then he would do wouldn’t he.

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Kerr Acoustics were sharing a room with Sound Fowndations who had gone to great lengths to arrange their speaker cables into spirals on adjustable risers, no idea if this helped the sound but it looks cool. They had the finalised version of the DS Audio Ioniser anti static unit for vinyl on dem, dubbed Ion 001 it will retail for £1,400.

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I spotted the rather attractive form of an Arcam Solo Uno at Ascot, this is a wireless streamer and amplifier in compact form with cast aluminium casework for £599. It does all the latest wireless stuff, eg Airplay 2, Chromecast and UPnP and has a sub output alongside speaker terminals on the back.

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Chord’s new Ultima 3 monoblock power amps were being put to good use driving KEF Blade speakers in a lush shade of blue with Innuos providing the source and ChordMusic cables making the connections, by the end of the day this system was beginning to sing.